Originally posted on Fox Sports Carolinas  |  Last updated 12/1/11
If you look at the DeAngelo Williams' numbers, you might think the Panthers running game is struggling. But when you factor in fellow running back Jonathan Stewart and rookie quarterback Cam Newton, Carolina's numbers on the ground suddenly look much better. In fact, the Panthers have quietly gone from having one of the least productive running games in the league early in the year to having the sixth-best in the league. The Panthers are averaging 135.3 yards per game on the ground. Of the teams ranked in the top seven, the Panthers have the fewest carries. That means when the Panthers run the ball they're normally effective, averaging 5.1 yards per carry as a team. Clearly, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski is learning the strengths of each of the players at his disposal. In each of the past nine games, the Panthers have rushed for at least 100 yards. They're coming off a season-high 201 in last week's 27-19 win over the Indianapolis Colts. "We've improved as the season has gone on," Chudzinski said. "Just the continuity, particularly early in the season of just getting guys in there and playing together for some time. Then with us seeing what guys can do the best and what fits us and how all the quarterback runs have evolved and how that fits into the whole package together. I think that's all helped. Plus, with us being successful and people being concerned about our passing game has helped us to run against some fronts and boxes that are more advantageous as well." Williams has just 540 rushing yards this season. But that's because he rarely gets more than a dozen carries in a game. Coach Ron Rivera doesn't believe the Panthers are underutilizing Williams, who got a 43 million contract this offseason. "If you under-utilize people, you've got to look at why," Rivera said. "Well, because you've got Jonathan Stewart. Because you've got a quarterback that's going to account for a number of runs. "We ran the ball 35 times, so the running game's not being under-utilized. I think the thing you need to understand is how we run the ball, what is our offense about? Then you look at the catches, and you look at the fact that six different guys caught balls (Sunday). And (Stewart) caught three of them. So under-utilizing, I don't think so." Newton is second on the team in rushing with 468 yards while Stewart has run for 442. The Panthers remain a passing team, having thrown the ball more than they've run in nine of 11 games. That's due in part to teams stacking the box early in the season and forcing Newton to beat them. "Each game presents different opportunities and different challenges," Chudzinski said. "We're trying to build an offense that is flexible enough that it can win games in different ways, whether that's running or throwing, whether it's a high-scoring game or a low-scoring game. (Against Indianapolis) we were able to run the ball well." Added Rivera: If we run the ball 30 times a game, and 12 for the running backs and six for the quarterback, that's what we do. That's kind of the character of our offense. The thing that's impressive is our quarterback's got 10 rushing touchdowns. Maybe if you handed it off to the running backs and give them a few more opportunities down there, they'd have a few more. But the bottom line is we score. And that's the big thing. We're putting the ball across the goal line. We're putting (up) 20-plus points a game. We're giving ourselves a chance."
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